This sentence precedes a quote that – without this sentence – would have been the first words of the essay you are reading. They would have tinted the text and guided you, dear reader:
There is a hierarchy in the arts: decorative art at the bottom, and the human form at the top. Because we are men.
– Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant, 1918
Not so long ago, this quote by two proto Modernists may have constituted the beginning of a text. Even more than that, it may have been followed by Sigmund Freud’s assertion that the “unique” contribution of women to civilization is weaving, a decorative art per se. In his lecture on “Femininity” from 1933, the late psychoanalyst propagated that in weaving, women imitate how nature conceals their “genital lack” with pubic hair.
This essay is on Linnéa Sjöberg’s latest body of work, in which weaving plays a pivotal role. A year and a half ago, Sjöberg bought a loom and ransacked her parent’s house for old pieces of clothing. She took what she could find as long as it was black, from her favorite disco dress during her teenage years, to an old umbrella, to her grandmother’s last skirt. Back at her loom, Sjöberg wove the materials into a 15metre long quilt with only 30 cm of the fabric visible at a time, due to the way the apparatus is built. The work titled Four Generations of Darkness became an elongated, cadavre exquis a metaphor for separate yet interwoven generations and biographies.
As art historian Lucy Lippard pointed out in 1976 with regard to Eva Hesse’s work, “tying, sewing, knotting, wrapping, binding, knitting,” have long been regarded as “female” activities and hence less valued than other “male” work. Textile art was perhaps most associated with the keepers of the domestic home, a dubious privilege only, if at all, applicable to whitemiddle and upperclass women. However, textiles have since also become a symbol for subverting this notion. In the banners of the Suffragette resistance, the “primitive” and “natural” connotations projected onto textiles by the West were overthrown and artists like Eva Hesse transcended the entrenched amalgam between fabrics and “women’s work” through repetition and ritual.
Working away to the monotonous, woodenclunking sound of the apparatus, weaving is a physically exhausting labour. The compulsive use of the body in everrepeated movements, Lippard goes on, can also “be a guard against vulnerability; a bulletproof vest of closely knit activity [that] can be woven against fate”. Sjöberg does not create comfy softonthe skin garments, but kneads together personal materials loaded with history, some of which border on the abject. Her quilts Layers of Shit, for instance, consist of yellowish rubber stripes cut and torn from an old mattress in the artist’s studio. God knows what happened on the bed before, and where the stains stem from.
Another series of work is made from embossed parchment, cow skins. Sjöberg’s engraved tattoos from her own body onto shinethrough and black leathers. While some of the works are made by the artist herself, others are produced by a company that serves luxury brands like LVMH. Sjöberg conflates high and low in the same way she interweaves art and life. After her allin performances of first being a business woman and then a tattoo artist for several years, she is now a weaver. In weaving, the inside and outside are blurred. As critical studies researcher Sarat Maharaj wrote in 1991, textile art cites “established genres and their edges as it cuts across and beyond them” to throw out of joint “handeddown notions of art practice / genre /gender”.
Sjöberg’s weavings – just like her parchment works – mess up the borders between the inside and outside, high and low, art and life, male and female. Her incisions penetrate the skin and her fierce engravings leave burnt scars on and in the body. Her threads are entangled inseparably in epic tapestries, similar to her total interweaving of art and life. Weaving, as Donna Haraway once put it, is for “oppositional cyborgs”.
– Stefanie Hessler